A Christmas gift

Chef: Tina Lee, Service Leader Museum & Gallery, 2022

Our cultural service Coffs Collections turned two years old a few months ago, and it continues to freely share easily accessible gallery, library and museum content. The newly added local histories included gems such as A Pioneer and the Eastern Dorrigo featuring a different style of treehouse

A Pioneer and the Eastern Dorrigo, p.55 (print), @ https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/77824

and From Pastures Green to Silver Screen, a personal memoir by cinematographer Jack Gerard, whose screen projector was donated to the Regional Museum.

Cummings & Wilson filmstrip projector, 1941; Coffs Harbour Regional Museum collection 89.226

Jack Gerard’s partner Marie Hunt was a gifted photographer and had her own studio, where she did not baulk at any subject.

with Joe Blake – Heather Watt https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/77024; Percy Hunt, father of Marie https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/77010; and  Roma Hetherington https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/77018

In addition to uncovering Joe Blake, some of our work revealing local stories found others who had an early start in the region but moved away for work, including the whistling mannequin Beth McKay who became Tad Wunderlich.

Beth McKay (Tad Wunderlich), Australian Women’s Weekly, 16 April 1938, p. 33. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58568017

We were also pleased to launch a completely new work via Coffs Collections: the South Solitary Island Lighthouse list of Early Keepers 1879 – 1915.

The sad part of the year

In January we lost an assiduous Museum volunteer and researcher, Geoff Watts. He continued to identify opportunities for filling gaps in our records, even after he left the area. One of those gaps was in the online coverage of the Coffs Harbour Advocate before 1955.

In December, the National Library added three sets of issues which had been missed from Trove: 4 – 11 December 1908; 10 January – 16 May 1925; and 5 -26 October 1928.

We were also able to dry out and contribute some flood-affected issues for August, September and October 1946. The World War II years were underrepresented because the paper was not available for printing.  More than 75 years later, we were able to fill in part of this gap.

And we farewelled Tina, who taught us a lot about museum collection management best practice. Thank you!




The Community Curator Project

Community Curator Sophie Gribble with some of her collaborators (L to R): Kobi Steward, Manduway Dutton, Nathan Brennan and Lizzy Rutten

The Community Curator Project was funded by Create NSW through the Local Government Authority Arts and Cultural Programs stream in 2020.

Ten Community Curators were recruited to locate stories and objects missing or under-represented in the museum collection.

Following training in the essentials of museum practice, Community Curators worked with their communities and networks to identify stories that mattered to them and that they wanted to see in the new museum in Yarrila Place. They then worked with local arts workers such as photographers and filmmakers to document these diverse histories and experiences and create new content. Videos were made, interviews and oral histories recorded and special items were identified and donated to the collection.

Fascinating stories from the Gumbaynggirr, refugee, surfing, alternative health and education communities were revealed.

These stories are now accessible to the community and will enrich and diversify the museum’s exhibitions, public programs and education activities in an ongoing way. Find out more about the Project, and see the end results, in Coffs Collections.

Story by Senior Curator Gallery & Museum, Joanna Besley

Jetty Foreshores – the Jewel in the Crown

The Jetty Foreshores which many refer to as the Jewel in the Crown has created community conversations for decades and it seems it is once again.

It’s a subject that has been discussed locally for four decades.

We went back into the archives to see what’s been suggested before and found this four-page wraparound from the Coffs Coast Advocate in November 2003.

It was called the Harbour Plan, – what Coffs Harbour City Council had planned in 2003 before the New South Wales State Government did their first Masterplan in 2008.

For those interested in the Jetty Foreshores it is worth a read.

Coffs Harbour Advocate, 1 November 2003 – this copy supplied by the State Library of New South Wales. You can Zoom in by clicking here, into Coffs Collections. 
Coffs Harbour Advocate, 1 November 2003 – this copy supplied by the State Library of New South Wales. You can Zoom in by clicking here, into Coffs Collections.

Remembering them

Peter Coverdale, 2nd 31st Battalion, https://2nd31stbattalion.wordpress.com/2019/04/

The stories entrusted to a Museum’s collection are held for sharing, but they don’t always immediately come to light due to regretful resourcing (space, people) constraints. Discoveries in the collection can then be serendipitous – a confluence of timing, or the result of a request for information. And when resources do become available, reviewing a backlog may also find a moving example such as this.

On the way up to our present camp we met up with some of our Battalion just out of the lines. Cpl Alan Kay, one of our crowd, has just made up these verses


We had stopped along the mule track to have a spot of tea,                              Just Reos going up to join our Company.                                                                        We were biting into biscuits which were on the bill of fare.                            When their trucks pulled in behind us – you could see that they’d been “there”.

You could see that they’d been through it by the lustre of their eyes                     And the horros they had witnessed would be hard to realize,                                  Dirty and unshaven with their clothes all torn & tattered,                                         The fever was within them, their hair was thick and matted.

[disrespectful content removed]

Men of the 31st Battalion with their circle black & red                                                Have won glory in many battles & scent there’s more ahead.

* reinforcements

Found in a collation of poetry written by Peter Coverdale 1942 – 1959 – 1963  

Here is part of the verse which “Peter the Poet” himself wrote,  with typing quirks, during November 1944:

Civvie Street

I’ve taken off the Kahki, that I’ve worn five years or so, I’ve hung my old slouch hat up in the hall,

The colour patch and badges that I once so proudly wore,  They now adorn a pennant on the wall,

And instead of service rifle, my hands now hold the plough, And I ride my horse, to fetch the cattle home

And my kiddies play around me, and my wife is by my side, And I’m thankful that no more, I’ve got to roam,

I sometimes miss the army, and the mates I used to know, Those hectic times, in many a varied place,

And Civvie clothes and civvy ways still seem a trifle queer, These Civvies seem to me a different race.

But I guess I’ll get accustomed to the joys of civvie street, My army days will grow dim with time,

I’ll forget about the hardships and the miserys we had. The jungle mud and horros of the line, But old mates I’ll still remember, and the happy scenes will stay,

Especially when I read my book of verse, That I wrote just as a hobby, to fill in odd idle hours, Instead of playing swi or something worse,

As it wasn’t penned for the ladies but for soldiers of the line, I’m afreaid a word or too is not polite,

But my book brought lots of pleasure to old tent mates that I had, They often made me read by lantern light.

And though its only gingle, without polish, grammer, wit, It still recalls to me, eventful days,

But my rhyming is now finished and I’m laying down my pen, For I’m starting off in brand new Civvie ways.

Peter wrote poetry for the Korora View. The Museum has not seen copies of this publication. Information on its whereabouts would be welcome.



South Solitary Island Lighthouse – The Early Keepers 1879 – 1915

Lightkeepers David Gow, John Fisher and Ralph Robinson; South Solitary Island (1912, February 28). Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1919), p. 21. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article263733370

For the very first time,  a comprehensively researched and referenced list of  the early lightkeepers on South Solitary Island from its first day of operation until the last day of 1915 has been compiled for easy browsing.

From that point onwards, until it was de-manned and automated in 1975, lightkeepers were appointed to the Commonwealth Public Service. The effort required to keep such an edifice operating before we even used the term ‘ 24/7 ‘ was astounding, as shown in the serious manner with which the positions were filled.

Richard Crossingham served as a lightkeeper in the 19th century. His descendant Brian has delved into the NSW government’s Public Service Lists (known as Blue Books), dug into NSW government gazettes on Trove, and discovered stories of the lightkeepers and their families to produce this essential reference list.

The end result is a very important document in the canon of research about the enduring South Solitary Island Lighthouse and its light.

The Banana Bowl Caravan Park

In a previous post describing the jewels of the Coffs Coast, there was mention of the Banana Bowl Caravan Park inaugurated by the Hill family. The Caravan Park was situated in Korora – a local word which means “the crash of the waves” or “the roar of the sea”. It was also very near to Pine Brush Creek, flowing through coastal rainforest, named for large hoop  and other pine trees.

Banana Bowl Caravan Park, 1960s; Photographer Desmond Eeley

The Caravan Park was opened on 22 December 1960, and John Hill was appointed the first manager:New big caravan park opens The Coffs Harbour Advocate 21 December 1960, p.1

Despite the view, the road sign leading down to the beach worked very hard to entice the public into the holiday park:

… An ultra modern caravan park and camping area is below you on the beach front beside the lake …. Hot Showers  Septic toilets  Laundry  Washing machines  Power  Ice & a fully stocked shop are at your disposal …. Safe swimming Diving Board Ponies & Canoes are free for the children …. Outside beach rock and spear fishing are easily accessible from here while there are many estuaries in the area for the enthusiasts …. All sports are available to you and many scenic drives and walks are within the area …. Visitors are invited to drive through the plantation where fresh banana bunches or hands may be inspected

The Banana Bowl, 1960s; Photographer Desmond Eeley

It was possible to stay at the Beach prior to 1960 when the Caravan Park formally opened. The locals loved to have their Christmas parties here and they became a regular event. In December 1956, more than 1,000 people including 600 children were guests of the Ex-Services’ Club.

The RSL’s Christmas picnic at Hill’s Beach, mus07-11349 in Coffs Collections at https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/53544

These photographs exemplify the ongoing popularity of the Banana Bowl: The Banana Bowl, 1960s; Photographer Desmond EeleyThe Banana Bowl, 1960s; Photographer Desmond Eeley

Despite the obvious attraction, the Caravan Park was only to survive for a relatively short time…

Poetic history

The succinct power of poetry to explain our history has been aired before. In the days when there were no poetry slams, a few lines sent in to the newspaper had to suffice. Although poetry modestly published in a slim volume may have never seen the light of day.

We are fortunate, in the ephemeral collection of the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, to hold some rhyming lines typed up or penned in ink. And on occasion, they reached us in a published format too. Here’s a taste:

Christmas time at Bonville

The crowds are back at Bonville for Christmas 49

With thousands of new faces,

Four hundred tents all looking fine.


They’ve come from North from South from West

To fish, to swim, to dance

Eat oysters free, put on the spree

And knock round in short pants

Sounds as though nothing much has changed. The remainder of the verses are available to read in Coffs Collections. Sometimes a gem such as this one  is tucked away in another publication:

The story of a lighthouse – South Solitary, 10.036 In Coffs Collections at https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/65486

The most prolific poet in our area, current poets excluded, seems to have been the Reverend Henry Edward Hunt. He waxed lyrically about much of our beautiful region, yet again proving that poetry is timeless.

A string of jewels

Diamond — Emerald — Sapphire — Opal. The Coffs Coastline was once a string of jewels. But where are they now?

Behind each headland on the Coffs Coast lurks a history of derring do, making do, and pushing boundaries – political, environmental, social. Their names, on other hand, reflect the enticement of the climate and lifestyle.


Captured in the name of the Road which leads to the suburb of Sandy Beach, Diamond Head was originally the name of headland at the southern end of Sandy Beach, possibly given by an early developer. Perhaps the potential developer noted the sparkling nature of the sea during the winter months of cloudless skies?

Coffs Harbour Advocate, 29 April 1982, p.1

Robinson’s tourist complex did not eventuate in this location, and the beach’s  name became the suburb’s name instead.


Look-At-Me-Now Headland, famous for its protests against ocean outfalls of sewage during the early 1990s, is encompassed by the expanding suburb of Emerald Beach. Every age group in the population was in attendance to make their feelings known about the possibility of beaches covered with excrement.

Protestor in a Look-At-Me-Now headland protest T-shirt, 25 November 1991 Coffs Collections, https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/76382
A tepee of protest, 25 November 1991 Coffs Collections, https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/76314

The protests were ultimately successful – the outlet was placed elsewhere and the beach retained its beauty.

Aerial view of Emerald Beach, 10 March 1992 Coffs Collections, https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/54801


Sapphire was the name of a property owned by the Williamson family. They moved to the area in 1958 and painted the roof of their home sapphire blue,  to match the colour of the sea. After only two years the property was sub-divided for housing. But much of the string of jewels has been kept accessible to the general public. The Sapphire Gardens Caravan Park, five miles north of Coffs Harbour, was one such location adjacent to the beach.

Foldout postcard booklet 19.725-1, in Coffs Collections at https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/59800
Sapphire Gardens souvenir teaspoon, m2021.51.3 in Coffs Collections at https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/71790
Foldout postcard booklet 19.725-1, in Coffs Collections at https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/59800

The beach and surrounds became a suburb in August 1999. It is bounded by White Bluff and Green Bluff.


Opal Cove Resort has retained its status as a place for holidays and conventions as well as fundraisers. Two committed residents were Adelie Hurley and Toni Mooy (nee Hurley) – known as the Banana Twins – and they did an extraordinary job promoting the Coffs Coast.

Adelie and Toni dressed for a Pharaoh’s Night fundraiser for children at Opal Cove Resort, May 1989. In Coffs Collections at https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/54008

Prior to the development of the Resort, the site was home to the Banana Bowl Caravan Park. It was managed by the Hill family. In 1988, John Hill spoke of his life at the heart of this jewel.

Foldout postcard booklet 19.725-1, in Coffs Collections at https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/59800

Collectively, the names were always going to inspire:

Bananacoast Opinion, 1 November 1973, p.13 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/254794608






Coming full circle

Researching our local history means traversing a loose network of information both analogue and digital. The information is managed by dozens of loosely-connected heritage-collecting agencies. It requires experience to navigate the network between them, but sometimes the connections are right in front of you, just waiting to be discovered.

The first small collection added to Coffs Collections (in 2019) was rescued from old carriers (cassette and CD-ROM). Known as the Voice of Time, it contains oral interviews of local people recorded in the late 1980s. The audio was converted to digital form and can be listened to using any web-enabled device.

Our collected local identity takes many forms. In addition to audio, Coffs Collections  includes (museum) artefacts, (library) pamphlets, (museum) photographs, and donated stories. The latter are mostly on paper and are still to be digitised.

One donated story was a brief biography of a person named Pat Reedy. It summarises his war training and service on Morotai Island (in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia), with some photocopies of photographs. They made an immediate connection with some, until now, uncredited photos already in Coffs Collections (just search on Morotai). But who was Pat Reedy?

A tantalising clue or two was in the biography with photographs loaned by Helen Landrigan: a image of Pat with his sister Gloria Reedy; a description of his role in the Second World War. But no war record was to be found on the War Memorial’s or the National Archives’ website. No birth listed in the Registry’s index. No inclusion on the Coffs Harbour cenotaph, which meant that Pat had returned home to Australia.

Some broad searching in Trove did find a few articles about Pat in his early days.

LOCAL AND GENERAL (1939, March 17). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article187990457

and also about the marriage of his sister Gloria in 1942.

UPPER ORARA WEDDING (1949, October 25). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article185058564

The latter was curiously titled Secomb – Faint Wedding, but it also mentioned the late Michael Reedy as father of the bride. A hint to follow further.

This turned out to be Gloria’s second marriage. There was no mention of Pat, but another search under his sister’s married name revealed confirmation of his existence. Was it an unusual form of memorial?


New Proprietors of Pat’s Gift Shoppe (1973, October 18). Sawtell Guardian (NSW : 1970 – 1976), p. 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article247259737

Time to go back to Michael Reedy. He was listed in the NSW Registry’s Death index for 1942. The NSW Marriage index showed his wife’s name, Sarah Jane. She wasn’t listed as a guest at her daughter’s wedding. A check of the Registry’s Deaths index did have a name match for her, but in Orange, also in 1942. This geographical separation was unexpected.

Sometimes only a basic tool such as a certificate can provide the answers. There are several options for obtaining one: buying an original or a transcription, finding it in a family tree in Ancestry (also a cost unless your public library subscribes to it) or, a long shot for contemporary events, finding the information in FamilySearch. Most of these options require spending a little, but they can save time too.

The 1942 death certificate of Sarah Jane Reedy was invaluable – it solved the mystery of Pat’s name. He was formally known as Clifford. Pat was 22 when his mother died; his older sister Isabel was 28 and younger sister Gloria was 10 years old.

Subsequent quick searches uncovered his war service file, which mentioned his lost thumb, on the National Archives’ website; his gravestone in the Coffs Harbour Historic Cemetery via the Ryerson Index; and his funeral notice in the Coffs Coast Advocate (on microfilm at the Coffs Harbour City Library). Alas, they did not explain why Clifford was known as Pat.

Coffs Harbour Lawn Cemetery https://austcemindex.com/inscription?id=7895066

But one last search of Coffs Collections revealed the remaining member of the family – Isabel Landrigan, older sister of Pat, who had been a Voice of Time interviewee in 1987. And the instigator of Pat’s brief biography. Our research in Coffs Collections had come full circle.

The serving sons of South Solitary Island Lightkeeper Richard William John Crossingham

This is a guest post authored by Mr Brian Crossingham.

Original Postcard from the Crossingham Family Collection – 1916 Leonard Sydney — William Arthur — George Henry

Richard William John Crossingham and his wife Amelia May (Townsend) were stationed on South Solitary Island for 10 years from 1883 to 1893. Richard was just the 5th Keeper to be appointed to South Solitary Island. He was a builder and stone mason and he and Amelia had married in St Leonards in January 1883 and took his first appointment with the service as 2nd Assistant Keeper, South Solitary in July 1883. He subsequently went on to serve in all three Keeper roles – being promoted to the Principal Lightkeeper’s role in 1890 when the then Principal, Robert Kelly, was transferred to the newly constructed Lighthouse at Smoky Cape.

Robert Kelly ‘s health unfortunately failed a few years on, and he passed away in June of 1893.  Richard was selected as his replacement and was appointed Principal Smoky Cape on 1st July 1893. Following almost 10 years at Smoky Cape, Richard was then selected for the Principal Keepers role at Barrenjoey Lighthouse (Broken Bay) where he served from March 1903 until his retirement from the service in April 1905.

On retirement Richard, Amelia and the family returned to the Macleay Valley and established a dairy farm at Long Reach on the Macleay River  – near the village of Jerseyville ( Pelican Island) and not far from Smoky Cape Lighthouse.

Children of the Island

Richard and Amelia had 10 children in all – seven while at SSIL – five boys and two girls – with their first-born Richard James born on Christmas Day 1883 on board the SS Platypus enroute to Sydney. Two boys were born on the island itself.  They had a further three children while at Smoky Cape – two girls and a boy – all were born at the Lightstation.

Their farm was prosperous at Long Reach. However, the world changed with the outbreak of World War I. Three of Richard and Amelia’s sons – William Arthur, Leonard Sydney and George Henry  – born during the days their father was assigned to South Solitary Island, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in 1916.

William Arthur Crossingham was born on February 9, 1885, at his grandfather’s farm at Pipe Clay Creek near Moorland just north of Taree on the NSW coast.

Leonard Sydney Crossingham was born on May 23, 1889 in  St. Leonards Sydney.

George Henry Crossingham was born August 10, 1891 at South Solitary Island Lighthouse.

Growing up at South Solitary Island and then Smoky Cape appears to have served them well – perhaps it was the diet based around fish and the coastal life? – whatever it was, in their medicals all three measured just on six feet.

Life would never be the same again

William and George were lost, and Leonard was wounded in action on three occasions. This had a profound effect on the family.

All three brothers enlisted at Kempsey on the 21st July 1916 and went into camp at Rutherford, near Maitland. They were taken into the 33rd Battalion – 5th Reinforcements on 22nd September 1916.

After final leave back home to the Macleay the three brothers transferred to Liverpool Camp to prepare for embarkation.  Embarking on the SS Port Napier in a group of 152 from the 5th Reinforcements they joined other Reinforcement Ranks for other Battalions and sailed from Sydney on 17th November 1916.

The  SS Port Napier steamed to Albany, Western Australia where the convoys were marshalled and then to Durban, South Africa. After a brief stopover they continued west around the Cape of Good Hope and headed northwards along the West African coast – arriving in Devonport on 29 January 1917 – into the dead cold of one of the bleakest winters experienced.

The 5th Reinforcements travelled to Larkhill in Wiltshire (by rail) and were marched into the 9th Australian Training Battalion at Durrington on the 30th January. It was there they trained in the practice of trench warfare.


No. 2540 Private William Arthur Crossingham, 33rd Battalion AIF

On arrival at Larkhill William was ill – seriously ill according to his records – and was admitted to the base hospital then transferred to King George Hospital in London on 8th February where he passed away two weeks later on 22nd February 1917. His record states he “Died of Disease (Pneumonia)”.

No. 2540 Private William Arthur Crossingham, Crossingham Family Collection

He was buried on the February 26 in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Brookwood outside London. The Military Funeral was attended by representatives of Headquarters in London and the coffin was carried by Australian troops – the records show George and Leonard were both in attendance along with their mother’s sister Margaret (Mrs. Vere.)

William had stepped up when it was required, signed up and was prepared to put his life on the line for his country travelling to the other side of the world not knowing what he may face – he carried out his duty.  Disease turned out to be his enemy.

Photographer: Brian Roy Crossingham  Crossingham Family Collection

Leonard and George continued their training and on 5 April 1917, proceeded along with 70 other reinforcements to France and joined the 33rd Battalion billeted in Armentieres on April 28. Both were posted to “C” Company.

George volunteered to be a Stretcher Bearer (SB). He was subsequently transferred to Headquarters along with others in November 1917 into the Battalion company.

Leonard and George continued to do as much as possible together,  particularly spending leave in England where they would meet with their maternal Grandparents and mother’s family.

No. 2542 (SB) Private George Henry Crossingham MM, 33rd Battalion AIF  

No. 2452 George Henry Crossingham MM Crossingham Family Collection

In a letter to his father and published in the Macleay Chronicle 10 July 1918 Leonard describes the battle leading to what would be George’s last action. An abridged version appears below.

“George and I were on leave to England but got back to France in time to join up with our Battalion on the evening of March 21 when the big battle started. So off we went and were put into battle straight away. As the Australian Divisions used to push the enemy back in one place they were shifted on down the battle front to wherever else a break-through was being attempted; we kept this going till we had covered a hundred miles or so.

After beating back the Germans at every point at which we fought them we had two days spell during which we organised for a bigger stunt on the third day. We had to regain a village and a wood which the enemy had just previously taken from the Tommie’s. After heavy fighting we drove the enemy back 900 yards. In that nights fight we had 170 men killed and wounded and left enemy dead all over. ……… next morning, we moved on to the Village of Villers- Bretonneux two miles away. We started the Villers – Bretonneaux battle on April 4 and then we had 3 big battles in 36 hours. ………

……. we never had such a trying time in our lives. On my left the rest of the boys were fighting with the bayonet for 6 hours ……. We were shooting for all we were worth; the enemy came so thickly that we mowed them down as they came walking along. My Lewis gun team fired nearly all their bullets away and they and we had to take to our rifles. Just then one of the boys yelled out “stretcher bearers”. Of course, George was one and he jumped up about 10 yards from me. As he was bandaging a wounded lad, he got wounded himself. Something made me look around and I saw poor George walking off the field. I looked around saw a faint little smile on his face. I thought to myself that he had a nice little wound that would give him about 3 months spell in England. So I went on fighting and when the stretcher bearers returned from the dressing station they brought me a little note from George in which he said: “Leon I am done this time, say good bye to all my mates for me”

Then I began to worry about him. After a couple of days had passed the second division of Australians relieved us, so we went back a short distance for a spell and ‘eat up. Our big guns were just getting busy and putting gas shells over when our platoon officer sent for me – “Leon I have sad news for you, your brother died at the Casualty Clearing Station. You can go out tonight”. I went but only for a day and a night. The next night we were all gassed and blind so off to hospital went 350 of my battalion. I am now in Birmingham (England) hospital where I find myself doing fairly well. Poor George was wounded through the back and the bullet stopped in his stomach, that is how it came to kill him. He was recommended for the M.M. or D.S.O. One thing dad is he died a hero, did things under heavy shell and machine gun fire that a lot of us would not have done. I am sending you a photo of the last battle in which George and I fought together – where the Australians took Villers – Bretonneaux and saved the British Army.”

George was posthumously awarded the Military Medal for his actions in what has been called the 1st Battle of Villers-Bretonneux.

The recommendation read in part

For conspicuous Gallantry and devotion to duty. During operations of 4th April 1918, east of Villers Bretonneau, Private Crossingham acted as a stretcher bearer. Although under very heavy machine gun and rifle fire, he moved freely in the open attending the wounded. He worked without rest until he himself was wounded on the afternoon of April 5th while tending a wounded man. By his splendid courage and contempt of all danger he set all ranks a high example. He was undoubtedly the means of saving the lives of many men.”

George was buried in the Picquigny British Cemetery in France.

Photographer:  Betty Crossingham, Crossingham Family Collection

No. 2539 Private Leonard Sydney Crossingham 33rd Battalion AIF 

No. 2539 Private Leonard Sydney Crossingham Crossingham Family Collection

We take up Leonard’s story back when he and George completed training in England……

Leonard and George continued their training and on April 5, 1917, proceeded along with 70 other reinforcements to France and were taken on strength with the 33rd Battalion billeted in Armentieres on April 28. Both were posted to “C” Company.

Leonard was wounded in action on three occasions over the course of his deployment in France. On 7th June 1917 during the Battle of Messines he was wounded by poisonous Gas. The enemy had shelled the area around Hill 63 and Ploegsteert Wood and over 500 Australian casualties from Gas were recorded. Len was Treated in France and returned to duty 7 weeks later 25th of July.

On 5th October 1917 in the lead up to the Battle of Passchendaele (9 – 12 October 1917) Len was again wounded, suffering a  Gun Shot Wound (GSW) to the knee – He was treated in France and returned to duty  5 weeks later on 10th November.

Shortly after George’s death on 5th April 2018, Len was seriously wounded in action by Poison Gas on the 17th April –– On the night of the 16th and early morning of the 17th the Germans had saturated the trenches near Villers Bretonneux and Cachey in a 3 hour barrage in the predawn with phosgene, mustard, and irritant gasses. In anticipation of an attack the town Garrison and remnants of the 33rd were moved out quickly from their shelters in the town and into the trenches. The attack did not come! Instead, they were bombarded again in the evening for another 3 hours. Len was wounded – for the third time however this was much more serious than the first time he was gassed. There were many gas casualties in that operation. Len was admitted to hospital in Rouen in France, then transferred to England – firstly to the 1st Southern General Hospital in Edgbaston and then to the First Auxiliary Hospital at Harefield. He was improving and allowed leave and then admitted on return to No.3 Command Depot, Hurdcott before being transferred to No 1 Command Depot at Sutton Veny.

The exposure to gas at Villers Bretonneux was by far the most serious. For context there were more than 1,027 casualties in that Gas Attack including the Commanding Officer of the 33rd Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Morshead. He was less serious but was still off the line for some 3 weeks as a result.

Tragedy was to strike the family back home on 3rd September when Leonard’s father Richard received news that his wife Amelia had taken ill while visiting her sister in Sydney. She had been ill over time but had improved lately and made the trip to Sydney. Almost immediately after the first news a second telegram said she had passed away.

“We deeply regret to report that trouble keeps crowding in on Mr. R.W.J. Crossingham of Long Reach, who our readers will remember lost two sons on active service in France, while a third is seriously ill in hospital in England; for yesterday he received a telegram announcing the serious illness of his wife, and an hour or so later a further wire reporting her death. In delicate health for some time, Mrs Crossingham had her illness much aggravated by grief for her sons, but a slight improvement a few weeks ago encouraged her to take a trip to Sydney; and the move has proved a fatal one. Mr Crossingham, accompanied by a daughter, left for Sydney Tuesday Evening.”

(Macleay Chronicle – Wed 4 Sep 1918 UNEXPECTED DEATH)

Leonard eventually returned to his unit in France on the 29th October 1918 after 6 long months in recovery. The 33rd Battalion had been relieved and stood down and was then billeted in Citerene.

On the night before Armistice day  he wrote to his future bride, Janet Saul of Bellimbopinni, Macleay River and was full of hope for a speedy return to Australia.  This would however be a lengthy process. It would be nearly 5 months before Len even saw England again – disembarking on 22nd April 1919.

It would be another seven weeks in England before he embarked the Hospital Transport “Themistocles” leaving England for Australia on 12th June 1919. Len disembarked in Sydney on 10th August 1919 – nine months on from his postcard.

The Macleay Argus of Thursday 21 August 1919, contained a detailed article of a welcome home put on by the Pride of Clybucca Lodge, G.U.O.O.F(Grand United Order of Oddfellows) the night before, for Len and another soldier “Trooper Price”.  A big event with a large turnout with local Councillors and dignitaries – the reporter writes of Len –

“On the platform …. Mr. W. Crossingham and Misses Crossingham (3) and Mrs. Parish, Father and Sisters of Bro. Pte. Crossingham…..”

“Sister Crossingham pinned a medal to her brothers tunic” ……..”Pte. Crossingham felt very proud to be amongst them. There was no one wished to be back more than he did. He had been looking forward for a long time to getting back to his people and dear old Aussie and he thanked them for the kind way they had shown their wishes to him. He thanked the women workers and all the people that sent parcels across to him in France whilst he was away. There were none of them knew how much the boys appreciated those things in France. (Applause)”

Leonard Sydney Crossingham recovered from his wounds, married Janet Saul, raised a family in Smithtown on the Macleay River and lived to the age of 76.

References and Acknowledgements

Story: Brian Roy Crossingham

For information and context within the article: Crossingham Family Collection – Photos and Collective Knowledge

The Harrower Collection 9th Infantry Brigade AIF – David John Harrower ACM. 2015

33rd Battalion 1st AIF – Home | Facebook – Rod Carpenter

Never a Backward Step- A History of the 33rd Battalion: John Edwards 1996

National Archives of Australia – Military Service Records:




Fallen Brothers of the Macleay 1914-1918; Jocelyn Bakewell and Debbie Reynolds; Kempsey Family History Group Publication, 2021

Macleay Fallen – Volunteers from the Macleay River Valley who paid the Supreme Sacrifice in the War of 1914-1918; Philip Lee; published by the Macleay River Historical Society 2021

SOLDIER’S LETTER. (1918, July 10). The Macleay Chronicle (Kempsey, NSW : 1899 – 1952), p. 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article174429391

UNEXPECTED DEATH. (1918, September 4). The Macleay Chronicle (Kempsey, NSW : 1899 – 1952), p. 4.

ODDFELLOWS WELCOME. (1919, August 21). Macleay Argus (Kempsey, NSW : 1885 – 1907; 1909 – 1910; 1912 – 1913; 1915 – 1916; 1918 – 1954), p. 5.